THE WORLD OF LABOR — July 2, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Biggest British Strikes Since 1980s over Pensions

One of the British government’s key arguments for reforming public sector pensions crumbled when it was made clear that they are projected to become more affordable in the future, not less, as teachers staged the biggest school strikes since the 1980s over the plans.

More than 2 million pupils missed classes as a group of four breakaway unions staged the first mass strikes against the coalition’s austerity plans. Thousands of parents were forced to take a day off from work, with nearly 6,000 schools closed and 5,000 partially closed.

“Today’s action across the country demonstrates the anger and distress that this government is causing teachers,” said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. She added that teachers “cannot stand back and see their pensions attacked when all the evidence shows that they are affordable and sustainable and that their costs are falling.”

Finland Aims to Create 90,000 Jobs

The Finnish government is committed to creating 90,000 new jobs in four years, a goal that will be difficult in the current economic crisis. But trade unions are totally committed in their support of the plan to improve employment opportunities.

To a great extent, the outcome of this ambitious goal depends heavily on the economic growth in Europe. It is clear that only some of the factors affecting employment issues can be decisively addressed by the government of this country’s 5.3 million people.

One of the most important features of this new and radical undertaking is to offer young people a “social guarantee.” The system is to be in place from 2013, under which young people will have several options: to work on a job, to pursue their education or take part in training. The new system will be outlined by a task force that will include trade unionists.

Germany Uses Shorter Work Week to Save Jobs

Germany’s “shorter work” policy has helped to keep the unemployment rate down — at a very low cost to the government. Its unemployment rate today is 0.5 percentage points lower than it was at the start of the downturn, even though the German economy actually has grown less than the U.S. economy over this period.

There are many different packages that fit the short- work scheme, but the basic story would be that rather than having a firm lay off 20 % of its workers, the government encourages the firm to cut their work time by 20%. The government directly replaces 60% of the lost wages (12% of the total wages); it has the company replace 20% (4% of its total wages) and leaves the worker taking home 4% less in wages while working fewer hours.

From the standpoint of the workers, this keeps them employed and tied to the work force. They maintain their skills (Germany also offers training subsidies) and they don’t run the risk of becoming unemployable as a result of long- term unemployment.

Chile’s Unions Plan Strike at Codelco

Thousands of union workers at Chile’s Codelco mine plan to stage a 24-hour strike on July 11 after disagreements with management over restructuring at the world’s top copper miner, union leaders said on July 1.

Codelco faces its toughest labor challenge in years as powerful union leaders demand a bigger say in the overhaul of the state giant company. A one-day shutdown could cost Codelco around $40 million or 4,600 tons of copper.

“The arrogance of management has led to this strike,” said Juan Meneses, head of a union at El Teniente mine. We are also protecting the state ownership of Codelco.”

Czech Unions Plan Protests at Health Ministry

Protests by Czech unions against the proposed government reforms will take place outside the Health Ministry, to continue with a march to the Chamber of Deputies on July 12, when the government is to start discussing its reform plan.

The meeting outside the Health Ministry was organized by the health-care unions that have the support of the two major labor federations. The unions of patients and the disabled peoples’ organizations also want to join in the events.

The government has drafted pension, health-care, welfare and tax reforms as part of an austerity program that falls most heavily on working people. Unions have criticized the government’s pension reform, still to be approved by Parliament, because it reduces social insurance benefits.

Nigerian Unions Issue 14-Day Strike Notice

Leaders of the two main labor unions in Nigeria handed down a 14-day ultimatum to the government and private sector employers to implement the new minimum wage or face a nationwide strike.

At a joint briefing- on July 1, leaders of the two unions decried the reluctance and attempt at reneging on the minimum wage agreed by stakeholders, and including governors, and signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan three months ago.

Before yesterday, the two unions had agreed to declare a nationwide strike on July 12 to force the implementation of the new wage standard. However, it was later agreed to give the government and private employers a two-week ultimatum to either pay the minimum wage or face the consequences.

To keep informed about workers and their unions in foreign countries, read our weekly column, “The World of Labor,”which we post here every weekend and on our two web sites: and